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The Strike Zone

Memorial Day roundup: Jeff Samardzija sizzles, Royals don't dig the longball

Jeff Samardzija retired 26 of the 30 batters he faced en route to his first career shutout. (Charles Cherney/AP) Jeff Samardzija retired 26 of the 30 batters he faced en route to his first career shutout. (Charles Cherney/AP)

Memorial Day brought us another stellar pitching performance in a season full of them. Tonight, it was Cubs’ ace Jeff Samardzija — whose last name would be worth 29 points in Scrabble — who handcuffed the White Sox in a complete-game shutout, allowing just two hits and two walks, striking out eight. It’s the second complete game and first-ever shutout for Samardzija, who became the eighth pitcher this season to throw a complete-game shutout with two or fewer hits.

Against his crosstown rival, Samardzija pounded the strike zone with his two-seamer and used his slider to generate swings-and-misses. He sat 97 with the fastball, peaking at 99, and was still hitting 95 in the ninth inning. Though he didn’t come close to a perfect game or no-hitter—Conor Gillaspie singled in the third—he had faced just one batter over the minimum through eight innings. He allowed a walk and a single in the ninth, but then got Alex Rios to pop out to end it.

In what’s been yet another rough season on Chicago’s North Side, Samardzija has been a bright spot. With his outing Monday, he’s now up to 80 strikeouts in 72 2/3 innings, a strikeout-per-nine ratio of 9.92, to go with a 2.85 ERA. That K/9 ratio is good for seventh in baseball. It’s an impressive turnaround for a pitcher who, back in 2010, walked 20 and struck out only nine in 19 1/3 innings, then was shifted to the bullpen in 2011, believed to be yet another Chicago draft-day bust.

Power Outage In K.C.

Props to Joe Posnanski, long-suffering Royals fan (is there any other kind?), for pointing this out on Twitter: After today’s 6-3 loss to St. Louis, Kansas City has just two home runs in its last 12 games, a span of 414 at-bats. Even sadder: Both of those home runs belong to Miguel Tejada. In the last two weeks, the Royals have been outhomered by the following:

  • Miguel Cabrera (6)
  • Chris Davis (5)
  • Kelly Johnson (5) – 121 career homers in 3,440 ABs, one every 29 ABs
  • Jason Castro (3) – 14 career homers in 614 ABs, one every 43 ABs

And are tied with:

  • Brett Gardner (2) — 20 career homers in 1,833 ABs, one every 92 ABs
  • Don Kelly (2) – 19 career homers in 759 ABs, one every 40 ABs
  • The Cubs’ pitching staff (Jeff Samardzija and Scott Feldman, one each)

As a whole, the Royals have 28 homers on the season, the second-worst mark in baseball ahead of only Miami—and with a Justin Ruggiano homer today, the Marlins are now just two behind Kansas City. For a team boasting Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Billy Butler and Alex Gordon in the lineup, that’s a massively disappointing figure.

The Giambino Keeps On Ticking

Speaking of homers, Jason Giambi launched an absolute moonshot off Cincinnati’s Mike Leake in the eighth inning of Cleveland’s 4-2 loss. The homer, estimated at 467 feet, would be the sixth-longest shot in MLB this season. Mike Napoli also drilled one 467 feet back on May 1 against Toronto. The major-league leader in distance this season: Mark Trumbo, who crushed a ball 475 feet on Apr. 29 against Oakland’s Dan Straily.

[mlbvideo id="27490033" width="400" height="224" /]

The homer wasn’t just a majestic shot for Giambi. As his 432nd career dinger, it also pushed him past Cal Ripken on the all-time career home-run list. Giambi now sits alone in 41st place, two behind Andruw Jones and Juan Gonzalez. He’d have to go crazy this year to pass the next active player on the list, though. Albert Pujols entered Monday’s games with 483 career homers.

That’s not the only impressive club of which Giambi is a member. With Toronto recently releasing Miguel Bautista, Giambi is one of just 10 players in baseball who are 40 or older. At 42, Giambi is the third-oldest player currently active, behind Mariano Rivera (born Nov. 29, 1969) and Darren Oliver (Oct. 6, 1970). That club just gained a new member, when Bartolo Colon turned 40 on May 24, and will add two more players later this season: Todd Helton (Aug. 20) and Ichiro Suzuki (Oct. 22). Derek Lowe would have joined that group on June 1 had he not been released by Texas earlier in May.
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